Monday, September 9, 2013
Heat is on as season "begins" for No. 20 Badgers
MADISON, Wis. -- The warm-ups are over for Wisconsin.
After outscoring two inferior foes by a combined 93-0, the Badgers' season gets serious Saturday in the desert when they play Arizona State.
"The only thing we can do is make sure we're hydrated well, and we're prepared as far as physically to go out and play a four-quarter game and not cramping up," safety Dezmen Southward said. "I don't know how hot it will be. I'll have to check it out."
It'll be a scorcher compared to Wisconsin weather. The National Weather Service forecast called for a daytime high of 103 degrees and a low of 82. The game will kick off in prime time.
Things could get sticky for other reasons, though.
This will be Wisconsin's first true test of the season. Compared to their first two games -- a 45-0 win over Massachusetts followed by a 48-0 drubbing of FCS foe Tennessee Tech -- playing the Sun Devils might equate to a final exam three weeks into the semester.
"Time will tell," coach Gary Andersen said Monday, asked how much his team has benefited in getting ready for the tougher part of the schedule. "I like the fact that we have gotten into the games and we started well emotionally. We weren't too high. We weren't too low."
Just like their even-keeled coach. To their credit, the Badgers finished strong in both blowouts. Andersen's club kept its focus.
"So it's prepared us," he said "It's time to move on, and we go play the next team on our schedule, and we're excited about the opportunity. I believe we'll be prepared."
The Sun Devils had fun with its own FCS foe last week with a 55-0 rout of Sacramento State in its season opener. Saturday's game will be a matchup of FBS schools that are 1-2 statistically in total defense -- only 162.5 yards allowed by Wisconsin and 167 given up last week by Arizona State.
To study up, Andersen has been viewing Arizona State film dating back to last season for a more complete gauge. Coach Todd Graham's spread offense could resemble a track meet compared to the slower foes beaten up so far by the Badgers.
In this case, one of the best defenses for Wisconsin might be an offense that hasn't missed a step on the ground under Andersen, in Madison. The Badgers have started the year with three 100-yard rushers in each of their two games, moving the ball at will with the trio of James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement in the backfield.
It would be quite an accomplishment if they can accumulate the same stats against All-America defensive tackle Will Sutton and a unit that Andersen described as a "very solid, salty defense. They play with a lot of emotion."
Conversely, Wisconsin usually doesn't wither to such challenges. Big Ten opponents have known for years that the Badgers like to run, and yet that has rarely slowed them down.
If the Badgers can keep grinding out yards, and sophomore quarterback Joel Stave continues to improve as a game manager, the defense can get just enough of a breather to keep fresh. Wisconsin has allowed opponents to cross midfield just four times in 25 drives.
Besides dealing with the heat, Wisconsin players will also need to adjust to the change in time zones and a late start after their first two games began just before midday. Arizona State is also hyping up the prime-time game as a "Blackout," hoping the Sun Devil Stadium stands turn into a sea of fans wearing all black.
Andersen plans to take his team west early, on Thursday, to help players get acclimated -- not that he's using any of the periphery factors as excuses.
"But regardless of how all that boils down, you know, it doesn't matter that we're flying across the country. It doesn't matter that we're going two time zones. It doesn't matter that it might be really hot. That's part of traveling," he said. "And the adversity that comes our way because of any of those situations ... will be a nonfactor if we win or lose the game."
Game notes The kicking job is open after a rough start for junior Kyle French, who is 1 of 2 on field-goal attempts on the year. He also had an extra-point try bounce off the right upright last week against Tennessee Tech. Sophomore Jack Russell's only attempt this season, from 31 yards last week, also glanced off the right upright. Andersen first accepted the blame before saying the kicking job was "unsettled. I'm going to try to put them in position to be successful" ... RB Corey Clement was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after running for 149 yards and two scores last week.
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP